Mar 052015
 
FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   Usually I try to have my column finished by the end of each month so it can be posted around the beginning of the next, but having a February column ready by late January proved impossible. Reason One: To my surprise and delight, a book of mine that came out last year, a little trifle called Judges & Justice & Lawyers & Law, was nominated for an Edgar by Mystery Writers of America, which meant that first I had to decide whether at my advanced age I wanted to come to New York late in April for the Edgars dinner, and second that I had to find a decent place to stay that wouldn’t cost me a pair of limbs that I still need.

   Reason Two: I was recently asked to write something for the 75th anniversary issue of EQMM, which comes out next year, and have been spending time trying to cobble something together that would be worthy of the occasion. I’m happy to report that the piece is coming along nicely.

   Reason Three: I’m also trying to put the final touches on another book — one that has nothing to do with our genre and wouldn’t be nominated for an Edgar even if pigs started to fly — and last-minute glitches have been gathering on the horizon like Hitchcock’s birds.

   Reason Four: Keep reading.

   Reason Five: I simply couldn’t think of anything relevant to the genre that I wanted to say, so finally I decided to give up the idea of a February column and shoot for March. Bang.

***

   A number of years ago I devoted part of a column to a Stuart Palmer story, now more than 80 years old, which begins at a St. Patrick’s Day parade on which the APRIL sun is shining down. I couldn’t imagine how that howler got past any editor but at least took comfort from the fact that the story never appeared in EQMM and therefore that the gaffe didn’t get by the eagle eye of Fred Dannay, probably the most meticulous editor the genre has ever seen.

   A week or two ago I stumbled upon another Palmer story for which I can’t say the same. “The Riddle of the Green Ice” first appeared in the Chicago Tribune (April 13, 1941) but was reprinted in Volume 1 Number 2 of EQMM (Winter 1941-42) and included in The Riddles of Hildegarde Withers (Jonathan pb #J26, 1947), a paperback collection Fred edited.

   In the first scene the display window of a jewelry store on Manhattan’s 57th Street is smashed and the thief gets away. Palmer specifically tells us that the robbery took place on a “rainy Saturday afternoon”. A few pages later he gives us a scene that occurs on the following Monday, which he solemnly assures us is “four days after the shattering of the jewelers’ window….”

   Yikes! How in the world could an eagle-eyed editor like Fred Dannay have missed that? Palmer’s story also appears in Fred’s collection The Female of the Species (1943), and sure enough the same gaffe pops up in that printing. Double yikes!!

***

   In another column dating back a few years I wrote that of all the authors Anthony Boucher reviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle back in the 1940s, Ray Bradbury, who had just died, was probably the last person standing. Recently I learned I was wrong. Surviving Bradbury by several years was Helen Eustis, author of the Edgar-winning novel The Horizontal Man (1946), who died on January 11 of this year at age 98.

   Well, technically perhaps I wasn’t wrong. The book was published during Boucher’s tenure at the Chronicle and he mentioned it a few times, for example when MWA awarded it the best-novel Edgar, but he never actually reviewed it for the paper. I wonder who did. Except for her later novel The Fool Killer (1954), Eustis never wrote anything else in our genre. Our loss.

***

   For anyone like me who began seriously reading mysteries in the Eisenhower era, the name of John Dickson Carr was then and still is one to conjure with. He’s been dead since 1977, but no one has yet come close to taking over his position as the premier practitioner of the locked-room and impossible-crime type of detective novel.

   We never met but I remain eternally grateful to him not only for giving me countless hours of reading pleasure, but also for telling his readers that in a small way I reciprocated. In the last full year of his life he reviewed my first novel for his EQMM column (March 1976) and called it the most attractive mystery he’d read in months.

   Since his death he’s been the subject of at least two major books: Douglas G. Greene’s biography The Man Who Explained Miracles (1995) and S.T. Joshi’s John Dickson Carr: A Critical Study (1990). Now those volumes are about to be joined by a third. James E. Keirans’ The John Dickson Carr Companion will run around 400 pages and include an entry for every novel, short story and published radio play in the canon and just about every important character in any of the above, not to mention sections on such subjects as Carr-related alcoholic beverages, automobiles, weapons, London landmarks and Latin quotations.

   How do I know so much about this as yet unpublished book? Because I’ve been asked by the publisher (Ramble House) to run my aging eyes over the book in pdf form and make any corrections I think it needs. That, amigos, is Reason Four behind the absence of a February column. I don’t know precisely when the Companion will be ready for prime time, but my best guess is a few months from now.

***

   I haven’t finished going over the entire book yet but there’s one Carr-related literary incident that I’m willing to bet Keirans doesn’t mention. To know about it you have to have read the published volume of the correspondence between the Russian emigre novelist Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) and the distinguished literary critic Edmund Wilson (1895-1972). Nabokov — or, as Wilson called him, Volodya — was fond of mystery fiction; Wilson — or, as Nabokov called him, Bunny — hated it.

   In a letter dated December 10, 1943 and addressed to Wilson and his then wife, novelist Mary McCarthy, Nabokov indicates that he’d recently read a whodunit entitled The Judas Window. The title of course is that of the novel published in 1938 under Carr’s pseudonym of Carter Dickson, but Nabokov’s letter seems to indicate that he thought the book had been written by McCarthy.

   “I did not think much of [it], Mary. It is not your best effort…. [T]hat lucky shot through the keyhole is not quite convincing and you ought to have found something better.” How could such a mistake have happened? Wouldn’t the Dickson byline have been on any copy Nabokov might have read? However it happened, you’d expect that either Wilson or McCarthy would quickly have corrected Nabokov’s misapprehension.

   But in fact there’s not another word about the book anywhere in the correspondence, and the editor of the collection of letters, Prof. Simon Karlinsky, was unfamiliar with detective fiction and printed Nabokov’s words without comment. Somehow I wound up with a copy of the first edition of the correspondence (Harper, 1979) and wrote to Prof. Karlinsky with a correction. In the revised and expanded edition (University of California Press, 2001), both Carr and I are acknowledged in footnotes to the Nabokov letter.

 Posted by at 3:39 am
Feb 282015
 
by
Scott D. Parker

I had it all planned out.

Last week, I wrote about the smooth and seamless acquisition of my DBA for “Quadrant Fiction Studio” and the business checking account. By the end of last weekend, I had successfully published on Barnes and Noble after previously publishing on Amazon and Kobo. I had even set up my new monthly newsletter. I was ready for the Big Announcement on Wednesday. I was going to announce via Twitter, Facebook, and everywhere else.

Well, things did not go according to plan.

This past Monday, my boy was admitted to the hospital with abdominal pains. The doctors and nurses quickly zeroed in on a possible cause: appendicitis. After three different folks conducted painful ultrasounds, the general consensus was that of a ruptured appendix. He had a successful appendectomy and is recovering very well.

What was great, especially for my wife and I having to keep the worry at bay, was how efficient everything went. I got the call from my wife at ten, we were in the ER before eleven, and he was in surgery at half past three. There were no other surgeries planned so we had the pre-op room and waiting room to ourselves. A little over an hour later, he was in recovery and soon moved into a cozy private room where he’s been ever since. With good test results, he might be able to go home on Saturday.

Needless to say, the announcement of my first published book was pointless beside my son’s health. He’s already one up on me in life experiences as I’ve never had surgery other than the removal of wisdom teeth.

Sure, I wanted the Big Announcement to be this past Wednesday, but, then again, I wanted to have the book published in January and I missed that mark, too. And the only person, at this stage of my fiction career, who cares about publication dates is me. To the rest of the world, it’s just there.

Perspective. It’s a good thing.

Be that as it may, WADING INTO WAR is now available, live and worldwide, at Amazon, Kobo, and Nook. The new cover link over there on the right takes you to the book webpage at Quadrant Fiction Studio. The author page is also up and running. It'll be the place from which I blog from now on. From there you can sign up for the monthly newsletter.

The best thing about making the announcement today? No longer does it just fall on a random Wednesday in February. It now coincides with my son returning home after a week’s sojourn in the hospital.
Feb 272015
 
An Interview with LAWRENCE KINSLEY


   It took a couple of weeks after I posted a review of The Red-Light Victim (Tower, 1981), a paperback original by Lawrence Kinsley, to track the author down, thanks to Google and the assistance of Mark Nevins, a mutual friend.

   You probably should go read (or re-read) the review again, before continuing. Here’s the link. I’ll reuse the cover image that I used then, but you’ll probably find it helpful to go back to read what I had to say about the book before reading Larry’s own comments on it. What I will tell you here, though, is that it’s a private eye novel, the PI in this case being Boston-based Jason O’Neil. In the background is the anti-nuclear movement of the early 1980s.

   This interview consists of a long comment that Larry left on that earlier blog post, somewhat edited to fit an interview-type format, along with his answers to a few additional questions I asked him.

Steve (SL): I’m glad I was able to get in touch with you, and of course it’s good that you’re still around to be gotten in touch with. Can you tell us something about the book, your reaction to the cover, and how it happened that a second book never happened?

Larry (LK): No, the nukes haven’t gotten me yet! Larry Kinsley is still alive, and am the author of The Red-Light Victim, though I had nothing to do with the cover pic! – that was strictly Tower Pub, which I doubt ever even fully read the book! In fact, I pretty much had an agreement with a scientific group named the Union of Concerned Scientists to review and publicize the book when it came out, but as soon as they saw the cover the agreement vaporized.

   Don’t know how much anyone would be interested in my subsequent tale of woe concerning the book. Suffice it to say that after I sold a second Jason O’Neill detective novel to Tower Pub, The Salem Cult, a year later, they went out of business three months before that book’s fall 1982 release date. Worse, they literally stole away in the middle of the night from their Park Avenue offices, taking all of my royalties from Red-Light with them! These included sales of the book to at least three different European countries, with translations, what Tower had previously told me was unprecedented for one of their mystery/detective books.

   As my writing career up to then had netted me approximately eighht cents an hour, and as at the same time my agent retired suddenly and I couldn’t re-market the second O’Neil book since Tower had already paid for a 15 year copyright, I decided at that time, aided by a sudden move out of the Boston area to Florida because of a work offer in the video retail business, to put my career on hold.

   Red-Light had been up for an Edgar as best first mystery novel, but didn’t win, I was told by Mystery Ink’s librarian, because Tower did nothing to push the book. Although I had other O’Neill books outlined, I simply for a number of reasons both financial and personal couldn’t continue at that time. Little did I know that my hiatus would last well over 30 years!

SL: What have you been doing in the past 30 years?

LK: I have recently retired from the retail business and am back in the writing game, though of course O’Neill himself is vastly out of date – in fact he took up residence in the retirement home for old detectives some time ago – but I do have an historical novel and a WWII spy novel in the pipeline, though no agent as of yet.

   I also spent several years writing a non-fiction book on the architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s campus of buildings at Florida Southern College near where I currently live, which is currently being looked at – no decision yet – by the History Press.

SL: Thanks for all information about The Red-Light Victim and what you’ve been doing since it was published. Do you now own the rights to the book? You mentioned that Tower had a 15 year long contract for the copyright, but that’s long past. And in that regard, have you considered finding a publisher specializing in reprinting oldout-of-print mysteries? There are quite a few actively putting out books today.

LK: You’re very welcome. I’m always interested in letting the reading public know something of the behind the scenes writing game.

   I don’t know much about publishers interested in publishing out of date mysteries – mine was so topical I really didn’t think about a re-release over 30 years later. Maybe by now enough people have come along who thing that the China Syndrome is a casual drug that there might be some re-interest in the topic. (In 1982 I was actually in the middle of negotiating a five-figure deal with a Hollywood producer to sell the screen rights to the book to him when China Syndrome screened, and the deal fell thru.)

   I do own the rights since Tower had only a 15 year window, even if with the failure to pay royalties they had even that, and when the book was published a couple of lines was left out of one chapter which has always nagged me. In fact I have computerized the novel, making a few improvements mainly in the grammar and syntax, so I suppose I could try to market it again.

   I am juggling a couple of other books now, so I will see, but thanks for the suggestion. I also have the second novel in the O’Neill series on the computer now, and may make an attempt with that at some time, though it’s probably even a bit more time sensitive than Red-Light and may not be publishable.

SL: Have you been keeping up with the mystery field in recent years?

LK: Other than rereading Chandler and Hammett, I must confess that I have pretty much put mystery reading as well as writing in the rearview mirror. My current knowledge of the detective/mystery field is severely limited.

SL: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me this way, and for agreeing to have our discussion put online.

LK: I certainly appreciate your interest. Basically I’m just an old gumshoe geezer now whose 15 minutes of near fame has long come and gone, and is probably wasting his time trying finally to get 15 more. But what the heck, I can still breathe, and a writer is usually a writer until his last breath!

 Posted by at 1:26 am
Feb 222015
 

ROBERT ARCHER – The Case of the Vanishing Women. Howell Soskin, hardcover, 1942. Handi-Book #10, paperback, 1943 (probably abridged).

   According to Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, Robert Archer was the author of one other mystery under this pen name, Death on the Waterfront (Doubleday, 1941) and a third as by Robert Platt: The Swaying Corpse (Phoenix, 1941). Archer’s real name was Robert Vern DeWard, about whom Google reveals only that he was “born in Iowa on 8 Aug 1894 to Robert Archer and Addie Platt. Robert Vern married Ruby Fay Harris and had a child. He passed away on 4 Apr 1984 in Los Angeles, California.”

   This case of the “vanishing women” is tackled head-on by a pair of sleuths who as far know never were involved in another. The story is told by a newspaperman named Marty Prentiss, just back in town (New York City) and trying to make a name for himself again by tagging along with a cop named Tiny Tim Lannahan when an unidentified body on a pier jutting into the North River along Manhattan’s west side.

   But Prentiss’s actual companion in solving the crime is a PI named John Stacy, whose path crosses that of Prentiss as he’s working on a kidnapping case that has led him into the same area along the docks. Missing is the adopted daughter of a well-known inventor who has plans for a weapons system for submarines that enemy agents would just love to get their hands on.

   Could the dead man be the inventor? The girl, once rescued, says yes. The man’s wife, once found, says no. And both the girl and the man’s wife seem to go missing every so often again, hence the title, but as titles go, it’s still a rather uninspired one.

   And so seems the case. A lot seems to happen to take up a big chunk of most of middle part of the book, but if you were ever to stop reading to think about it, you’d realize that nothing really has been happening.

   Nor does the writing ever seem inspired. It’s competent enough, in a semi-breezy style that’s better then 80% of the pulp detective fiction that was being written at the time, but it’s nowhere nearly as well done as the work usually turned in by the guys who wrote for Black Mask, for example.

   Until the ending, that is, when Prentiss finally shows he hasn’t been sleeping all the way the case. (A bad metaphor. He actually doesn’t get a lot of sleep in this book.) I’m still not sure if the pieces all fit together, but Archer definitely had had something up his sleeve all along, and it shows. Not a classic, by any means, but as a detective novel, it’s a memorable one.

 Posted by at 1:57 am
Feb 172015
 

SUSAN RICHARD – Chateau Saxony. Paperback Library; paperback original, 1971.

   You pick a book at random, around here at least, and you never know exactly what you may find. This looks like a perfectly ordinary gothic romance novel from the 70s, and that’s precisely what it is. Checking with Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, you then discover that “Susan Richard” is a pseudonym, of Julie Ellis, who also wrote mysteries and crime fiction (mostly other gothics) as Susan Marino and Susan Marvin.

   Most of her books seem to have been written as by Julie Ellis, and over the years – from the titles, at least – it appears that she is now writing what is called “romantic suspense” – gothics as such having lost some of their appeal. (There simply can’t be that many spooky castles and mansions still remaining anywhere in the world.)

   While the first book that Hubin lists for her as being crime fiction, The Secret of the Villa Como, as by Susan Marvin, came out from Lancer in 1966, Julie Ellis seems to have had another early career writing as Joan Ellis for the relatively sexy line of Midwood paperbacks from the even earlier 1960s – for example, The Hot Canary (Midwood, 1963), The Strange Compulsion of Laura M. (Midwood, 1962), Liza’s Apartment (Midwood, 1961) and Gang Girl (Midwood, 1964).

   INSERT: There is a short interview with Julie Ellis you can find online that was conducted by Lynn Munroe before her death in 2006. She was not bothered by the attention paid to her early “sexy” novels, but rather she seemed to enjoy the attention and was a guest at several of Gary Lovisi’s annual paperback shows in Manhattan. I never met her, but after writing this review, I was in touch with her several times by email.

   So. Chateau Saxony is where young, unattached Laurie Stanton finds herself going after graduating from college – Switzerland, that is, near Geneva, where she by happenstance has been hired to teach French to a young wealthy businessman’s stubborn grandmother, who’d rather be back home in New England.

   The house itself is not spooky, but the servants do not seem to like her, and soon after Laurie’s arrival, strange events begin to happen: a rock and a trivet are thrown through her window; she finds a voodoo doll on her bed; a fire breaks out in her room. The grandmother, Diedre, on several occasions, claims to have ESP and warns Laurie that if she stays, something horrible will happen at the chateau that summer.

   The challenge to the author is, if you’re going by the rules, is to have all of these events happen, and yet make them seem reasonable, with everyday kinds of explanations, so that in effect, nothing seems to happen while there really is. And – if you were wondering – why does Laurie stay? There is the young wealthy millionaire (I guess that was redundant) whom she finds herself falling in love with. And, it as gradually becomes clear, although under the most chaste of circumstances, he with her.

   The last incident that Laurie must face could have been enhanced into a fairly decent locked-room mystery – a pendant is stolen from her room while she is sleeping and locked in – but after nearly 150 pages of gradually growing suspense and atmosphere (mostly the latter), the whole affair seems to come unraveled and is solved all too quickly. I imagine I should have spotted the person responsible, but I confess that I did not. I am embarrassed, but I will never lie to you.

— June 2004

 Posted by at 2:46 am
Feb 132015
 
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Robert E. Briney


HELEN McCLOY – Cue for Murder. William Morrow, hardcover, 1942. Reprint editions include: Dell #212 , paperback, [1948], mapback edition; Bantam, paperback, 1965.

   In his introduction to a reprint edition of Cue for Murder, Anthony Boucher recalled the reception of Helen McCloy’s first novel, Dance of Death (1938): “Few first mysteries have received such generous critical praise, as the reviewers stumbled over each other to proclaim [the author] a genuine find … combining a civilized comedy of manners with the strictest of logical deduction.”

   In addition to an urbane and literate style, McCloy’s work is characterized by psychological insight, meticulous plotting, and the sheer ingenuity with which she handles seemingly impossible situations.

   McCloy was one of the founding members of the Mystery Writers of America, and was that organization’s first woman president in 1950. She was married for fifteen years to mystery writer Davis Dresser, who, as Brett Halliday, created the popular private detective Michael Shayne. In addition to writing fiction, McCloy has been a publisher, editor, and literary agent. In 1953 she received an MWA Edgar for Mystery Criticism.

   McCloy’s series detective, Dr. Basil Willing, was introduced in her first book; Cue for Murder is his fifth appearance. Willing is a psychiatrist, once a consultant to the Manhattan district attorney’s office and now, in the early months of World War II, working with the New York office of the FBI.

   He is in the audience at the Royalty Theater on opening night of a modern-dress revival of Sardou`s Victorian melodrama Fedora. At the end of the first act, it is discovered that a murder has been committed on stage during the performance, but no one can identify the victim.

   Willing is drawn into the investigation both throughm his police connections and through a family friendship with the production’s costume designer. The clues include a knife sharpener’s canary released from its cage, the odd behavior of a housefly, a mysterious figure on a fire escape, and a script containing an underlined cue for murder.

   Cue for Murder is almost a textbook example of the classic fair-play detective novel, an intricate framework in which the clues fit together like the interlocking pieces of an elaborate jigsaw puzzle. The framework is fleshed out with diverting characters, acute psychological observation, a satiric and knowledgeable rendering of the theatrical background, and a vivid portrait of wartime Manhattan, complete with blackouts and air-raid wardens.

   The book’s strength as a novel is measured by the fact that it can be read with pleasure even after its secrets are known.

         ———
   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

 Posted by at 4:30 am
Feb 092015
 
THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


SPENCER DEAN -Price Tag for Murder. Doubleday, hardcover, 1959. Pocket #6048, paperback, 1961.

   This is one more in the series of interminable — if this novel is any guide — adventures of Don Cadee, Chief of Store Protection at Ambletts Fifth Avenue. As information comes to Cadee’s attention that an entire warehouse of merchandise, a warehouse that should have had no existence, has disappeared, he is simultaneously faced with the suicide or murder of a key employee in the store’s purchasing department.

   Some minor problems for Cadee are the installation of a closed-circuit television to scan areas in the store and the perhaps imminent departure of a company executive to Mexico, possibly accompanied by some of the store’s funds and one of the store’s best buyers.

   For those who like action, or what seems like it, and dialogue, with very little description or writing style and not a whole lot of plot.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 6, November-December 1987.


Bio-Bibliographic Notes:   Spencer Dean was the pen name of (Nathaniel) Prenctice (Jr.) (1895-1976). Other pan names he used were Jay De Bekker, Spencer Dean, Dexter St. Clair, Dexter St. Clare & Stewart Sterling. The latter is perhaps the most well-known. According to Al Hubin Crime Fiction IV, he was “born in Evanston, Illinois; died in Tallahassee, Florida; worked for an advertising agency, then newspaper man; editor of trade publications, journalism lecturer; wrote and produced over 500 radio mystery shows, wrote for films and TV; published some 400 magazine detective stories.”

   A long article by Richard Moore about Stewart Sterling and his various “specialty detectives” can be found here on the primary Mystery*File website.

      The Don Cadee mystery series –

The Frightened Fingers, Washburn, 1954.
The Scent of Fear. Washburn, 1954.
Marked Down for Murder. Doubleday, 1956.
Murder on Delivery. Doubleday, 1957.
Dishonor Among Thieves. Doubleday, 1958.
The Merchant of Murder. Doubleday, 1959.
Price Tag for Murder. Doubleday, 1959.
Murder After a Fashion. Doubleday, 1960.
Credit for a Murder. Doubleday, 1961.

 Posted by at 10:58 pm
Jan 292015
 
Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          


ORRIE HITT – I’ll Call Every Monday. Red Lantern Books, hardcover, 1953. Avon #554, paperback reprint, 1954.

   I got the impression that she was short because I could see a lot of one leg. It was straight and firm and rounded and not too long from the knee down to her foot. She had the accordion in her lap and this had pulled her dress up.

   I was trying to think how I would describe Orrie Hitt’s writing style, and I went through quite a few ideas such as ‘post war spicy pulp’ or ‘hard-boiled soft-core,’ but I finally came up with the most accurate description I could think of.

   Orrie Hitt wrote in paperback covers.

   Read that passage above and tell me if you can’t see that cover by Avati, McGinnis, or Saber. The man wrote in paperback covers.

   That’s not a knock. It’s a vivid and entertaining style with a flavor of the pulps but adapted to the post war hard-boiled paperback original industry he worked in. He isn’t a lost master, but he wrote professional readable books sometimes a bit above the average and there were actual plots between the not quite sex scenes.

   It is difficult to remember how hot this was when written. Today it’s at worst frustrating. It’s the fifties juvenile kind of sex where the hero wants to see the girl naked, but he’s not quite sure what to do when she is. When anything actually does happen, you have to go back and reread the passage to be sure it did.

   I’m not complaining that it is not more graphic, only pointing out that it is hard to believe you had to read this with a flashlight under the sheets or hide it in your treehouse from your parents.

   This one was published by Avon. Beacon or Midwood were more often his style.

   The hero of this one is Nicky Weaver, a bit of a drifter, the usual WWII veteran of popular fiction of the era.. As the novel begins he’s selling insurance in Devans a small town in upstate New York USA.

   MONDAY IS A BIG day on an insurance debit. Monday is the day when the housewives hang out their wash, lie to every bill collector in town—and are thankful that they didn’t get themselves higher than a kite over the week-end.

   If you get the idea early that Nicky is a poor man’s Walter Neff from Double Indemnity you wouldn’t be far off; the film version anyway with that mouthful of Chandleresque wiseacre observations; first person Smart Aleck. The girl with the accordion is a sweet kid who lives where he does.

   She had on a dark blue dress and the way she was standing she was outlined against the window. She had high pointed breasts, a pulled-in middle that didn’t amount to anything, and a set of hips that drove the temperature in the room up to about a hundred and twenty.

   That’s Sally, the accordion girl, and another paperback cover moment. There are several of them along the way with her and others.

   The chief female in question appears shortly after. She has a husband and she’s buying life insurance on herself, for now. She’s Irene Shofield, wife of Shepard Shofield:

   She was tall, about five-seven, and she looked like she had about a forty-inch bust. Her hair was blonde, almost to the point of being white, and it was held in place by a green scarf that came up through her curls and ended in a little bow on top. She wore yellow shorts that were plenty short and a halter of the same color that wasn’t holding up anything that couldn’t have stayed up by itself.

   Irene does things to Nicky:

   She sat up, bent forward and put the glass down on the ground beside the bench. Her halter was loose and I felt my temperature getting up to sunstroke stage.

   As you might guess Shepard really needs life insurance. You see, in New York State if the wife is insured for over $1,000 the husband has to have coverage as well. That must have come as a surprise to Irene, such a thing would never occur to her. Whether that was true or not about the insurance, Hitt sells it and writes believably about what Nicky is all about, not only in his pants, but in his work. His attention to the details of the business weaving in and out around Nicky may remind you of John D. MacDonald, a lesser John D. MacDonald, but still.

   The book moves well, is well plotted, and if no surprises it has no disappointments either. Hitt’s not in the class of a Ed Lacy, a Harry Whittington, or a Day Keene, and he’s a shade on the sleazy side, but he’s the king of what he did.

   While Nicky struggles with his itch for the troubled close to illegal Sally and the seduction by the gorgeous Irene a colleague, Dell Waters, dies, and Dell told his wife that Nicky was a good guy who could help her, and of course she is attractive and represents the healthy side of Nicky’s libido. I can’t say she mourns very long though.

   I watched her as she worked. Her arms were strong and brown and she handled the hook like she knew what she was doing… She worked with a slow rhythm that made her look cool even there in the hot sun. Once or twice she bent over to pull an old piece of wire out of the way. When she did that her blouse sagged in front. There was no doubt about her being all woman.

   Bess and her kids are Nicky’s salvation, if Irene doesn’t drown him in desire and her plans. Irene is a shade on the sociopathic side. Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity is pure as the driven snow compared to Irene.

   There are a good many complications and situations for hot breathing and some panting with Sally, Bess, and especially Irene, and Irene will show her true colors with Nicky having to make the big choice between her and murder.

   There’s even a plot and several sub-plots that don’t quite get in the way of the panting, but the tame sex that seldom gets beyond a kiss, a bit of groping, loose clothing, and the temperature of the woman-in-question’s body under her clothes. “Pointed breasts” is about as graphic as it gets. This is much tamer than anything in Spillane’s work, whatever kind of hound Nicky is.

   The difference is the sex is really what this and most of Hitt’s books are about. The plot is incidental to that paperback cover style of writing.

   It’s a fairly standard paperback original suspense novel, Hitt a bit better as a writer than some, at least enough to be memorable. If you didn’t already know that he was a collectible writer from the era, you would likely read another one by him. This one is what John D. MacDonald might have written if he was just a paperback original writer and not John D. MacDonald. It’s what people thought Gold Medal was giving them, when they were giving them so much more in most cases.

   Something is missing though, and it escapes me exactly what it is. The same plot, the same level of writing in other hands didn’t feel trashy, and this does. I’m not saying it’s bad trash, though. I enjoyed it for the hour and fifteen minutes it filled. I’m just not sure I’ll remember much of it a month from now or be able to distinguish it from another Orrie Hitt book.

   There is a mystery involved here as well. Sometime later Hitt wrote a book called Ladies’ Man. That book is in the third person and features a hero named Nicky Weaver who used to sell insurance and takes a job selling advertising for a small radio station in a new town, gets involved with a woman and a bit of embezzlement, and ends up a murderer being arrested as the book ends. If he’s the same guy, he’s bi-polar at the least.

   I’ll leave that one for someone else to solve, but it’s also written in paperback covers.

 Posted by at 2:48 am
Jan 262015
 
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller


OLIVER BANKS – The Rembrandt Panel. Little, Brown, hardcover, 1980. Pinnacle, paperback, 1982.

      Boston art dealer Sammy Weinstock and “runner” Harry Giardino seem to have little in common. Weinstock is reputable and knowledgeable, with a shop on Charles Street at the foot of Beacon Hill. Giardino is one of those characters who hang around on the fringes of the art world, buying up works here and there, peddling them to dealers, always waiting for a big score.

   However, when both are murdered in a particularly brutal and sadistic manner, Homicide men O’Rourke and Callahan sense a connection. Unable to find what it is, they accept the help of international art detective Amos Hatcher, who is taking time off from a seemingly dead-end case in Europe.

   Hatcher joins forces with the murdered dealer’s assistant, Sheila Woods, and in searching the shop they find an old and rare frame, minus its painting, with fingerprints on it that definitely link the two victims. With this discovery, the two (now lovers) start on a trail that takes them from Boston to Amsterdam to Zurich to Cape Cod — and eventually to a missing Rembrandt, a linking of Hatcher’s two cases, and a cold-blooded killer.

   This is an excellent novel, packed with information about art and the people who make their livings from it. The characterization is uniformly good, especially the established relationship between O’Rourke and Callahan (which is full of humorous camaraderie) and the growing one between Hatcher and Woods.

   This, plus the vivid depiction of the somewhat seedy side of Beacon Hill and the various foreign settings, does a great deal to make up for the fact that the plot moves slowly. We know all along who the killer is and what his motivations are, but nonetheless the story sustains our interest on the way to a satisfying conclusion.

   Banks’s second novel, The Caravaggio Obsession, which also has an art background, was published in 1984.

         ———
   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

Bio-Bibliographic Notes: Amos Hatcher also appeared in Banks’s second novel, but these are the only two mysteries he wrote. For another review of The Rembrandt Panel, check out J. F. Norris’s blog here. Banks himself was an art consultant and critic in New York City. He died in 1991, only 50 years old.

 Posted by at 8:23 pm
Jan 222015
 
THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


ZELDA POPKIN – Death Wears a White Gardenia. J. B. Lippincott, hardcover, 1938. Red Arrow Books #5, digest-sized paperback. 1939. Dell #13, paperback, 1943.

   Mary Carner, department-store detective, appeared in five books, of which this is the first. At least in this novel, the store is Jeremiah Blankfort and Company in New York City, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an appearance by the Governor’s wife.

   Also adding to the festivities is the discovery of a corpse that turns out to have been Andrew McAndrew, credit manager of Blankfort’s and a chap, it would appear, given to blackmailing married customers who charge items for their girl friends. He also had his own girl friends, one of whom is carrying his child.

   The suspects are limited to those who were working in the store the previous evening before the anniversary celebration, but that is nonetheless a rather large number. McAndrew’s fed-up wife and brother-in-law and a junky but talented shoplifter add to the total.

   Mary Carner is convinced that the murder was committed by an employee of Blankfort’s. That part of the investigation is stymied since the store’s owner will not allow the employees to be questioned until the sale day is over. This is, after all, still in the depths of the Depression, and the department store’s finances are rather rocky.

   Better than Spencer Dean’s department-store mysteries, but not much better. One hopes that Popkin improved in her later novels.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 1, Winter 1990.


       The Mary Carner (Whittaker) series –

Death Wears a White Gardenia. Lippincott, 1938.
Murder in the Mist. Lippincott, 1940.

Time Off for Murder. Lippincott, 1940.
Dead Man’s Gift. Lippincott, 1941.

No Crime for a Lady. Lippincott, 1942.

   Zelda Popkn wrote two other works of crime fiction, So Much Blood (Lippincott, 1944), and A Death of Innocence (Lippincott, 1971) which was the basis of a TV movie of the same title. (CBS, 1971 with Shelley Winters and Arthur Kennedy).

   For more on the author herself, here’s a link to her Wikipedia page.

 Posted by at 9:25 pm